Reviewed by Pamela Draycott
I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Nausicaa, France’s National Sea Life Centre in Boulogne-sur-Mer. It took us well under an hour by car from disembarking from the P&O ferry in Calais to getting to the Sea Life Centre. This included a detour and stop for diesel. Fuel is roughly the same price in euros as it is in pounds so it is advisable to go with a nearly empty tank. Nausicaa is easy to find. From Calais head along the A16 towards Boulogne-sur-Mer coming off at exit 32. There is adequate signposting when you leave the A16. If you do get lost head along the coast road into Boulogne as that will take you straight to Nausicaa and it is slightly easier than driving through town. There is adequate parking in and around the area although I imagine in the summer it does get very busy. A free car park runs alongside the SeaLife Centre but if you take your car into the underground car park you have to pay. I think that Boulogne as a town is often overlooked in the rush to head further south. The harbour area, old town and well-preserved castle and ramparts are in themselves well worth a visit.
Our family group consisted of myself and my husband (young retirees!) and our grandchildren (both aged 2 years and 4 months). We had a whale of a time (excuse the pun!). Our grandchildren particularly enjoyed the penguins, the sea lions (both in and out of the water) and the underwater viewing areas. I loved the jelly fish and coral reef area whilst my husband thought the sea lion demonstration was the highlight for him. There was plenty to keep them engaged as young as they are. There were children of all ages visiting when we went as well as adults without children. It really does have something for everyone. On the day of our visit there were plenty of people around but it didn’t feel too crowded or busy.
You need to leave at least 2½ hours if you are going to attempt to do justice to what you will see. I would say that longer is better, giving you time to browse the exhibits and the shop, enjoy feeding times and be fed yourself at one of the cafés. There is so much to see that spending time beforehand checking out feeding times etc…, on the easy to use website is well worth it. You also get €1.50 off the full ticket price if you book online. Nausicaa is open every day (apart from Christmas Day) from 9:30 until 18:30 (19:30 during July and August). On New Year’s Day it doesn’t open until 14:00. Tickets purchased 2 hours before close are valid until noon the following day.
In February 2015 the prices for entrance were:
Full rate over 12 years old: € 18.80.
Full rate from 3 to 12 years old: € 12.30.
Students and the unemployed: € 13.15.
Over-60s: € 17.30.
Disabled visitors: € 10.40.Tour circuit adapted to people of reduced mobility
For 4 persons and over you can book a group Family and Friends package which give some reduction of the prices outlines above. Audioguides (in English, German, Dutch and French) and pushchairs can be hired at €3.50 each. These prices are not cheap, and are being reviewed in March 2015 so will probably go up. However, I do think it is good value for money for what is a very educational and enjoyable visit.
Staff are welcoming and helpful. Those I spoke to all had at least a functional degree of English and most had good English. The centre is kept clean and tidy. There is good signage in English as well as French. The building is labyrinthine but there is good access for a wheelchair or buggy due to the many strategically placed lifts and ramps.
Nausicaa has over 36,000 fish and other marine creatures of all shapes and sizes. The exhibits are well zoned. Information is well presented with clear headings and adequate detail. Obviously depending on interest levels and age you can skip some of the more detailed information without too much loss of sense. Visitors can now, for a nominal charge, download an app (go to the App Store or Google Play and type in ‘Nausicaa’) which can be used to identify the species of fish you are looking at. It then gives you information about it directly on your smartphone. Although I didn’t use this app, so I can’t testify to its accuracy and ease of use, it does look to be a useful addition. Nausicaa is more than a tourist attraction. It is involved in breeding and research programmes and clearly aims to educate young people and adults about diversity, conservation, environmental and sustainability issues.
The drinks and light meals in the cafés are fine although the choice for vegetarians is somewhat limited (a common issue in France). We enjoyed the café bar overlooking the tropical lagoon which gives you a feeling of being outside inside! There is also a small Bistro bar with lovely views overlooking the coast. This is near to the touch tank where people of all ages are able to have a close up encounter with a number of fish species. Our grandchildren were not enamoured with this tank but lots of other children and adults were.
We enjoy the ferry and don’t live too far from Dover so doing the visit in a day wasn’t an issue. There are hotels in various price bands in the immediate area if you want to use the visit as an excuse for a ‘stop-over’.
For more information or to book tickets visit www.nausicaa.co.uk.
Nausicaa Centre National de la Mer, Boulevard Sainte Beuve, B.P. 189, 62203 Boulogne-sur-Mer Cedex, FRANCE